Posts Tagged ‘White Tower’

Henry’s Residence at the Tower of London in 1261

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

Whilst Henry III’s lodgings at the Tower would probably not have been as lavishly decorated as at his other major residences of Westminster, Clarendon and Winchester, there is still plenty of evidence to show that it was comfortably appointed. During his stay in 1261, he and his family would have lodged in the royal apartments, built early in his reign, to the south of the White Tower overlooking the river Thames. These, and the adjacent Great Hall, had been smartly whitewashed on their exterior in the late 1230’s, and shortly afterwards, this was complemented by the whitening of the keep, later known as the White Tower. The great round turret, today called the Wakefield Tower, is the only part of Henry’s private accommodation to survive at the Tower. Its scale, and the beauty of the architectural spaces within, hint at the former splendour of the king’s lodgings. We know from detailed accounts in the Liberate Rolls how some of the king’s and queen’s rooms at the Tower were decorated.  Queen Eleanor’s chamber within the king’s apartments was to be painted with false pointing and embellished with flowers. Another room was to be whitewashed and painted with roses.  The window shutters of the Great Hall were painted with the king’s arms. The chapel in the Wakefield Tower was to be glazed with a great window, and painters were paid 19 shillings and sixpence to adorn its walls. In 1238, Henry ordered that a ‘good and suitable’ screen be made and situated between his chamber and this chapel. It is very likely that Henry received visitors in the first floor chamber of the Wakefield Tower during his stay in 1261, and one wonders if the decorations installed over twenty years before would still have shone as brightly. Perhaps, if the candlelight were subtle enough. Henry was much concerned with the embellishment of chapels at the Tower, as elsewhere. He and his queen worshipped in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula to the north of the inner ward, and this was decorated accordingly. Large glass windows were ordered in 1240, and beautiful stalls for Henry and Eleanor were installed. Polychrome sculptures, painted panels and possibly a wall painting of St Christopher were added, together with a magnificent rood. The carved Crucifixion on top of the rood was flanked by ‘two handsome cherubim’ standing to the left and right. A characteristically personal request was added that they should have ‘joyful and smiling faces’! Henry’s passion for the story of Edward the Confessor did not weaken at the Tower of London. In the same year, he ordered that fine painted sculptures of St Edward handing his ring to St John the Evangelist be installed in the chapel of the same name, in the White Tower. Alas, nothing of this magnificent decoration now survives.

Posted on behalf of Jane Spooner, Curator (Historic Buildings) at the Tower of London.